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Synthetic Biology

Teacher: Jake Wintermute (ehwintermute@gmail.com)

Schedule: 10 sessions of 3 hours

Evaluation: 1/3 Paper Presentations, 1/3 Teaching Materials and Quantitative Exercises, 1/3 Final Exam and Oral Defense


Course Overview

Synthetic Biologists work to design and create biological systems that are scientifically interesting or technologically useful. Synthetic Biology adapts concepts from the physical and information sciences, seeking to become a fully rational framework for the engineering of life.

This course will introduce the major trends that drive the Synthetic Biology literature. Whenever possible, we will identify the fundamental theories and practices that unify the field and provide a foundation for future projects. Students will confront an emerging domain with an unclear definition, vague boundaries, and boundless ambition. We will wrestle with uncertainty, diffused information, conflicting intuitions and multi-disciplinarity. Course graduates will be prepared to design their own made-to-order systems, and will be familiar with the lab techniques required to bring them to life.

The course includes no laboratory component. It is ideally complemented by a wet lab rotation in molecular biology or participation to the iGEM competition.

Each session is includes a lecture (9h-9h45) followed by discussion and exercises (10h-12h).

Course Objectives

Graduates from this course will be prepared to create living things of their own design, and to answer the following questions:

How does a DNA sequence become working gene?

How can you create complex functions with multiple genes?

How can you introduce DNA to a new organism and make it work?


Most students will be familiar with introductory-level biology or introductory-level math. In an interdisciplinary course, we expect that not many students will be totally comfortable in both subjects. Therefore we will provide access to background material as needed.


‘Synthetic Biology – A Primer’ by Baldwin Bayer Dickinson Elli Freemont Kitney Polizzi and Stan. Imperial College Press.

‘An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits’ by Alon. Chapman & Hall/CRC

‘Adventures in Synthetic Biology’ by Endy, Deese, Wadey & The MIT Synthetic Biology Working Group.